Mary Laird may be a letterpress publisher, but she is first and foremost an artist. This can be very easily noticed since she only prints a very limited amount of her books. In her interview in A Poetics of the Press, Laird speaks to this by saying her work is “slow and ornery (Laird interview 96-99)” and therefore reproducing it is time consuming. Making numerous copies of her works also takes away from the sentiment and attachment she creates with each work. Per our discussions so far in our publishing course, I strongly believe Laird views her books as art, poetry, literature, and vessels of communication…not so much as plain covers housing important content. See my pictures below to better understand my meaning of this. Laird works for days, even weeks at a time on one book instead of working in a production type fashion, tediously working one by one until she is satisfied with the placement of her multimedia content. Laird’s books consist of everything imaginable whether it’s wood, hand-painted images, hand-written words, leather, lacunose, and so much more.
Surprisingly enough, Mary Laird prefers to work alone. While Laird prefers to work alone and set her own projects, she currently teaches the art of letterpress at the San Francisco Center for the Book. As an artist myself, I understand her mentality. Over the years Laird has produced 40+ styles of chapbooks, each one different from the last; because while Ms. Laird teaches letterpress, she also teaches the art of bookbinding and various forms of it. This can be seen as an explanation for her varying styles of binding used in her books. It’s no wonder Laird describes her work as “slow and ornery” because she takes the time to do things by hand, and do them each perfectly. Additionally, Ms. Laird makes her own paper whenever possible! From personal experience in the world of book arts, papermaking alone adds a significant amount of time to any process whether it would be painting or drawing…or in this case, letterpress and bookbinding.
Laird, Mary. “Mary Laird: Quelquefois Press and The Perishable Press Limited.” A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers, By Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press and Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 96-107.
“Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press – Teaching and Printing Fine Letterpress Books: Master Teacher at the SF Center for the Book: Retreat Guide.” Mary Risala Laird Quelquefois Press, http://maryrisalalaird.com/.
Burning Deck Press is a space for experimental poetry as well as translation from both French and German. Despite the avant-garde nature of its poetry, Burning Deck’s aesthetic clearly prizes content over form. The way the type is aligned on the page may initially give Burning Deck books a somewhat simple appearance, but it is this simplicity that draws the reader deeper into the richness of the poetry at hand.
I chose to look at two different Buning Deck publications: Michael Donhauser’s Of Things and Lisa Jarnot’s Some Other Kind of Mission. Both texts have numerous qualities that make them unique works of art and showcase Burning Deck’s captivating style.
The book by Donhauser is the simplest of the two, illustrating Burning Deck’s more “classical typography” style (Schlesinger 19). All the poems are categorized into three sections- Winter: Spring, Spring: Summer, and Summer: Fall. The text itself is set in a typical, left aligned format, which allows for the words of the poems to really take effect. Translated from German, each poem is a beautiful description of various things in nature that fits the overall theme of the poem. In this collection, Burning Deck’s preference of content over form is quite apparent.
Of experimental texts Rosmarie Waldrop says, “The more experimental the text, the more clearly I want to define the space of the page (Schlesinger 19).” This is evidenced in Lisa Jarnot’s Some Other Kind of Mission through the way that the pages of the book are left mostly blank. This slightly more experimental approach could very well be the inspiration behind my own blackout poem pictured below. My print was already created before the writing this post; however, I think the project fits well with the style of Jarnot’s text. This piece has a slightly less traditional layout, with pieces of the text set next to images of blackout poems and other small art pieces. Overall, the combination of textual layout and the visuals is a great showcase of Burning Deck’s experimental side.
In a way, my poem is a combination of both styles of the Burning Deck books I chose to look at. The form is reflective of the blackout poems present in Jarnot’s piece, and the content is reflective of the natural imagery of Donhauser’s poems. Unlike many Burning Deck publications my poem places form over content; however, it still fits within the press’s creative mold as a piece of visually simplistic poetry. As a result, I unknowingly creating a somewhat Burning Deck-esque print a little while before I even learned about the press.
I’ve said something similar in a different post about letterpress, but there’s something truly special about the products of letterpress publishing. It’s the care and work put into the production of each piece that adds so much value. Evidence of this comes from Burning Deck’s note on the very last page of Jarnot’s text that says, “This book was typeset in 10 pt. Palatino by Rosmarie Waldrop… There are 1000 copies, of which 50 are signed by the author.” Reading this inscription made the book feel even more like an intimate little treasure I was able to find, which is one of the many reasons I am fascinated by letterpress.
Donhauser, Michael. Of Things, translated by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron,Burning Deck Press, 2015.
Jarnot, Lisa. Some Other Kind of Mission, Burning Deck Press, 1996.
“Kieth and Rosmarie Waldrop: Burning Deck Press,” 2012. A Poetics of the Press, edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Press, 2021, pp. 14-23.
Mary Laird of Quelquefois Press combines image and text to create intricate, hand-made books. She was inspired by artists who integrated word and image, and most of the work she publishes is illustrated (Laird 101) (“Books.”). Her personal work resembles collage; Remember the Light features combinations of several mediums including paintings, etchings, and letterpress (“Remember the Light”).
Her book production is marked by a “slow and enjoyable” attention to detail, and patient creation of every part of the book; she enjoys setting type and folding paper, the designing and bookbinding (Laird 100, 107). She uses a variety of materials and techniques in her work. For Remember the Light, Laird made an effort to combine old and new technologies in her process, and the final product included laser-printed poems, letterpress prints, eighth-century binding techniques, and painted etchings, all encased leather boxes (106).
One of the things I found unique to her book-binding methods was her creation of drop-spine or clamshell boxes. Many of the books she publishes (for herself and others) are contained in hand-made boxes; she actually has a tag on her portfolio site for “Boxes,” indicating works which feature such a box or even just the boxes themselves. Kindred Flame and Jagged Stones, both by poet Anita Barrows, form a set contained in single box lined with microsuede inside and covered in silk and mohair (“Kindred Flame & Jagged Stones”). Laird’s Remember the Light is housed in a similar box covered in goatskin—three of them are actually covered in ostrich (“Remember the Light”). This use of unusual, quality materials is integral to Laird’s aesthetic, especially in her personal work.
Laird’s drop-spine boxes inspired me to try to construct my own. I followed this video to learn the process, but I did a few things differently. For one thing, I used different (and lower quality) materials: cardboard instead of book board and copy paper instead of book cloth. Book board allows for more precision than cardboard, which bends easily making it difficult to get straight edges and sharp corners. I also decided to simply connect the trays with a spine, rather than attaching them to a spined cover. If I were to make another drop-spine box, I’d certainly use better materials, and I’d like to make the entire piece, including the cover portion.
Constructing the box took more time than I expected, and I found myself sacrificing aesthetics in the interest of completing the project. I had, for example, planned to cover the box with a dinosaur cotton print, but as the box developed, it seemed that the finished product wouldn’t be as crisp and clean as I’d hoped, and I decided to save the material for something else. As a result, my drop-spine box doesn’t resemble the well-made, exquisite boxes of Laird’s, and it lacks in material quality. However, Laird’s line drawings and etchings inspired me to draw some consolation dinosaurs on my copy paper cover. They are much simpler than Laird’s artwork and not quite as packed with personal meaning, but I had fun with them, in much the same way that Laird enjoyed making the drawings for her book Eggplant Skin Pants (Laird 101).
My finished box. There are some bubbles and bumps in the copy paper, and, if you look very closely, you can see the UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE from the cardboard box I used. But it opens and closes, and the book fits inside. Not the neatest or prettiest job, but functional. (Photos by Oli Grogan).
Laird, in her interview with Kyle Schlesinger, discussed being inspired to learn new art techniques. She recalled a junior high teacher who encouraged her to explore everything from puppetry to silver casting, and she took an icon class four times with the motivation of learning to grind gemstones for colour (Laird 99, 103). Like Laird, I was inspired to learn a new skill—the constructing of drop-spine boxes. I certainly haven’t perfected it, but I’ve learned a new aspect of bookbinding which I’m excited to expand on in future work.
“Books.” Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press. Mary Laird and Quelquefois Press, 2021, maryrisalalaird.com/books/. Accessed 3 Nov. 2021.
“Kindred Flame & Jagged Stones.” Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press. Mary Laird and Quelquefois Press, 2021, maryrisalalaird.com/portfolio_page/anita-barrows/. Accessed 3 Nov. 2021.
Laird, Mary. “Mary Laird: Quelquefois Press and The Perishable Press Limited.” A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers, By Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press and Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 96-107.
“Remember the Light.” Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press. Mary Laird and Quelquefois Press, 2021, maryrisalalaird.com/portfolio_page/remember-the-light/. Accessed 3 Nov. 2021.
Aaron Cohick, the founder of NewLights Press, was one of several artists Kyle Schlesinger interviewed in A Poetics of the Press. One of the most prominent characteristics that continue to draw me back to Cohick’s’ interview was how he portrays an open-minded and barrier-defining mindset towards his work.
CURB: A series of poems by Divya Victor that were designed and printed by Aaron Cohick which document the assaults and murders of Indian Americans and Indian Immigrants in public spaces in the United States.
Books on Books Collection: The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) 2017. This booklet features saddle stapling, risograph, letterpress/collagraph, and hand panting’s. [This photo is a part of Aaron Cohick’s collection titled Books on Books Collection and was acquired from NewLights Press in December 2020.]
The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) has multiple starting points. In fact, there are ten refinements on these starting points, and each iteration even has a diagram and footnotes which emphasize the academic nature of the starting points.
In further researching Aaron Cohick, I discovered that his personal aesthetics expand far beyond the average publisher and printer-his approach is simply authentic, primarily due to its inspiring design. One of the most fascinating components of Cohick’s work is his continuous reiteration of the idea that ‘the new is always an extension of the old and these media grow together and extend each other’ (Schlesinger 320). In addition, Cohick’s contention that the roles and trajectories of print and books in culture are changing, thus making it an exciting time to be involved in this world, is perhaps the most prominent factor that attracted me to his work. I find Cohick’s aesthetics to be an exceptionally unique agent to the evolving world of print and literature. His work is particularly inspirational due to his ‘real’ and ‘relatable’ responses to the ordinary learner about the relationship of the many working parts of modern-day publishing and printing. In A Poetics of the Press, Cohick concludes his interview by reflecting on how this is the time to be making work that is part of the living culture-subject to and dependent upon change for its vitality because print is only dead if we try to freeze it in time (Schlesinger 321). This analogy is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my career as a writer.
Aaron Cohick’s approach to publishing, in addition to the realm of the book’s form and content, truly defies traditional barriers. As founder of NewLights Press, he provides a space for independent printers and publishers to work at the intersection of artists’ books and encourages learners to experiment with text, images, and the making process. Cohick’s mission connects to the nature and transformation of the evolving world of print and literature by inspiring new and young writers to explore the relationships of the many different working parts of modern-day publishing and printing. I chose to experiment with different digital arts that ultimately connect art and form to the prospects of my creative writing response-which was fueled by inspiration from Aaron Cohick and his NewLights Press. I do not have much experience with the style or structure of digital art, but I thought it might be valuable to experiment with this new and creative process. There is an ongoing debate about whether or not digital art replaces traditional practices, but I do not see it that way. Instead, I believe traditional applications of the book’s form and content are more valuable than newer digital forms. Traditional styles connect the author with their work in ways that digital applications just cannot. However, it is necessary to recognize that while digital techniques and modes are becoming increasingly popular in publishing, this does not indicate an end to traditional practices. Cohick does an excellent job at recognizing this by stating that print is only dead if we try to freeze it in time.
Schlesinger, Kyle. A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers & Publishers. Aaron Cohick NewLights Press, Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021.
For Alan Loney, printer of Electio Editions, the process of composition is the master of all other elements of printing, determining the form and the content of each piece through the restrictions and capabilities of the equipment and the materials on hand. There’s little to no distinction between the act of writing and the act of designing the piece in the letterpress, and maybe that’s why Loney mostly published his own poetry, or works that he made himself involved in, as “[the] form of the poem and the form of the book overlap, intersect, interfere, overlay each other in the pleasure of the work, and the layers or degrees of openness required for that to happen have not in [his] experience come easily, nor can they be taken for granted, but none of [his] work now takes place without them” (Poetics 74). And Loney’s style is fairly distinctive, harmonizing the written word with the visual display in a “superbly integrated performance” (Campbell). The subject of his poetry mostly focuses on the senses, delving into the details of what is seen, hear, and felt by the poem, echoed through the paintings and images he pairs with the poetry. Yet the style of his poetry and the images included in his books are always in simple colors, figures, and fonts. While he veers away from the idea of an ‘artist book’, Loney still considers artistic and imaginative ways to merge the words, the image, and the form of the page together to create a holistic piece that reflects his all-encompassing process.
I was amazed at how he could take the simplest pictures, fonts, and poems and merge them together into something aesthetically beautiful. Loney shows that things don’t need to be complex in order to be pleasing, and that was certainly the consideration I took when creating my own spreads in imitation of his style. Imitating his technical considerations and parts of his style, I created my pieces on two-page spreads and used only the fonts he’d use in his books (Perpetua, Centaur, or Castellar, mostly). Since Loney also had an interesting in Greek words and letters, I translated my titles into Greek as well, and considered some symbolism that I discovered in the process for the images. Then, I printed these pieces out on a manila-colored stationary and added my own simple drawings, meaning my spreads would have to be unique pieces, something that unintentionally fits with Schlesinger’s comment on in his interview with Loney that “Letterpress has an intrinsic resistance to identical reproduction” (87). So, while my inspiration came from Loney’s craft, there is a sense that one can never completely replicate another work, even if that work is your own.
“Alan Loney: Electio Editions,” A Poetics of the Press, edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Press, 2021, pp. 68-95.
In CC1, I criticized myself for being unable to make my accordion book — as I called it — aesthetically ugly. Turns out I’m not the only one who has this idea of an appealing form of ugly.
Ugly Duckling Presse uses the idea of aesthetically ugly in both their content and their visuals.
“The eclecticism and oddness makes it easy to make mistakes that don’t look like mistakes,” says Matvei Yankelevich, a founder of the press (Schlesinger, 302).
“Happens all the time,” adds Anna Moschovakis, worker at the press. “But I should clarify and say that Ugly Duckling is not committed to making ugly books, but we do want to mae books that are different. Isn’t that the supposed moral of the story?” (Schlesinger, 302).
One way they do this may seem like an obvious avenue to take: forming how a book looks through the content of the book. Of course, this is very much a mainstream way of producing commercial books, but if one were to see a book from Ugly Duckling, they’ll see trademarks only the press would produce.
While I’ve only seen two or three of their books, they make it clear that it all started with the letterpress and printmaking. On the cover of A Poetics of the Press, one will see layered designs, possibly linocuts or simply blocks of ink that would only appear from a letterpress. They also have a line dedicated to a’s and o’s, the former written in a solid black sans serif font while the latter is printed red in a serif font.
In their other book I have on me, I Remember Nightfall, it once again has that reminder of where commercial books came from. With a grey, silkscreen-inspired cover and shapes drawn in a maroon and white ink with what seems like a calligraphy pen. Of course, it wasn’t actually put through this process, but it really looks like a section of a mixed modernist and impressionist painting that is based off nightfall.
Another way the press focuses on being ugly is through writing. By this, they basically mean they’re looking for works that would be traditionally rejected by other publications, as they’re more include to reject big-time writers.
As Moschovakis put it: “We want people who aren’t very accomplished” (Schlesinger, 304).
Reading a few pages from Marosa di Giorgio’s I Remember Nightfall is a prime example. Being that it’s translated from its original language is Spanish, it’s already not accomplished, but the content of the writing is even more intriguing.
I should mention, too, that one thing Ugly Duckling does that’s not often seen in other books is that they include translations in the original language and the translation next to it.
The poems in this book, I feel, would be greatly criticized by the general public as well. Readers seemed to have gotten used to wanting the answer right in front of them rather than look for subtle connections; in other words, put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Di Giorgio uses repeated images and the narrator’s imagination to bring the reader on a journey with her through these distractions she’s seeing that help show the reality of the world around her.
As Moschovakis said in the interview, “Now that’s ugly!” (Schlesinger, 306).
As it’s part of the creative response, here’s a poem I wrote in, hopefully, the spirit of Ugly Duckling:
Mom laughed at me when I said I want my relationship to be like a goose’s.
Two were standing near the pond, tearing grass from the earth with black razored beaks,
And when one waddled too far away from the other, it would honk, panicked,
Then run back to the other, wings flapping–
Out of fear of being forgotten, or simply to cover more ground?
The other helped shorten the distance by meeting the panicked one,
Reaching its neck out to form a cartoonish hug.
Now, I hear them flap against creamsicle skies, honking directions at each other,
But I fall back asleep, wondering how my mother couldn’t see how
These odd birds understand what it means to be a flock.
I personally love it when people use images that are fake or delusional or even memories to get a message across. While mine is probably more directly than that of di Giorgio’s, I wanted a good portion of it to be image based, like her’s. One thing I have incorporated into other works of mine that she does is stating fiction as reality, even if there’s hints of it not actually being the case.
Poem four in the section “Magnolia,” it begins with, “When it rains a lot, the angels line up in the garden like tiny druids…” (di Giorgio, 87).
Perhaps these angels are stone ones people set in gardens, and the narrator is imagining them lining up. She ends the poem with her chasing the angels when they fly into the house and presenting her captive to her teacher.
While I haven’t’ had a chance to read the whole book, angels and gardens are two of the recurring themes in her book. I didn’t state it in my poem, but, if this makes any sense, geese are a recurring feature in my life, which is probably why I chose them. My high school was frequented by a nearby flock, every vacation spot had geese, and they recently came back into my life as I hear them in the morning and evenings on campus.
I don’t plan on it presently, but perhaps I’ll make a collection of ugly poems that surround geese, which many agree are some of the less desirable birds in the world. Though Ugly Duckling Presse is named after the bird that nobody wanted, and that habit or that want to be embroiled in the seemingly ugly things of society is what’s needed.
di Giorgio, Marosa. I Remember Nightfall. Translated by Jeannine Marie Pitas, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017.
Schlesinger, Kyle, et al. “Anna Moschovakis & Matvei Yankelevich.” A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers, Cuneiform Press, Austin, TX, 2021, pp. 290-309.
Unlike a lot of the more recent letterpresses that have come to print in the modern day, Burning Deck Press, and more specifically the Waldrops, chose to focus more on the traditional style of printing. Rather than make an attempt to produce mostly in the art genre, always breaking down barriers and trying new art forms with each piece that they craft, the Waldrops focused mostly on translation, picking and choosing which poets they wished to translate and print. Of course, they didn’t take just any poem or poet lying around searching to have their work printed; with a careful precision and particular taste, the Waldrops meticulously sifted through hundreds of texts written by numerous poets, and it’s with a delicate hand that they picked who they printed. According to Kyle Schlesinger, the Waldrops “[prefered] to produce the poetry [they found] interesting rather than siding with a particular camp” or type of poetry; instead of sticking to only one genre of poetry and it’s style, they simply went around and produced the writing that they liked (16). Given that they’re more interested in “presenting texts” compared to playing around with the printing process and the page itself, their “typography [tended] to be classical”, their work seeming more and more like a “typical” book unlike a lot of other modern presses (Schlesinger 19). A good example of this can be found in A Test of Solitude, a book of poetry originally written by Emmanuel Hocquard and then translated by Rosmarie Waldrop. The poetry was simplistic in its form, with stanzas on Emmanuel’s life and time in Norway while remaining in solitude, and to follow such writing, the Waldrops chose to keep a simplistic style, putting the focus onto the words and the story they told instead of the art they could have potentially created.
Although I remained uncertain of how my work would turn out, I attempted to create a piece of poetry directly influenced by the books produced by Burning Deck Press. In order to write my piece, I first read through one of the books that Burning Deck published, A Test of Solitude, in order to see what parts I should focus on. After discovering that the poetry all revolved around the poet’s time left by himself in a cabin in Norway, I decided to follow a similar path; I took my time sitting by myself in the library and tried to turn the simple scene into a piece of poetry. The poem itself isn’t that long, a small stanza and nothing more, but given the aesthetic Burning Deck looked for, I believe I managed to capture the press’s essence. The poetry in the book uses small amounts of punctuation throughout, and the editor/ poet was incredibly diligent in the words that sat on each line; given how particular the press was with their choices, I did my best to do the same.
Burning Deck Press was an incredibly interesting press that designed many books and translated many works, and without their specific tastes, there were numerous works that could have been published. Though they’re rather typical and simple in regard to their design, they crafted a large number of amazing texts to give to the world. It’s sad to know that the press recently closed in 2017, but with a long time to produce lots and lots of texts, their influence won’t be forgotten quickly.
This post is a slight continuation from my last post about Druckwerk Press and its creator, Johanna Drucker. To quickly summarize, Johanna Drucker is a well-known creator who mixes the uses of text as content and art. In doing so, Drucker’s goal is to create a whole new viewing of the connection between these two topics. She uses her background historical knowledge in graphic design along with other poetic and artistic endeavors to accomplish this connection. Drucker strongly teaches about trying new ways to connect the two, so it was fitting it would flow into her press. The topics are shown from the start on the company’s website, “Druckerwerk: Print and Art.” from there, Druckerwerk Press is almost like if not in itself a maker’s space. Twenty-three artists feature under the “artists” section of the webpage. From there, the site discusses its workshop and what offerings they have for other artists to use the space. They even teach classes for the different processes in the evenings and have offers for commissions to be made. This wide variety invites unexperienced or those who may not normally be able to then take things such as text and art and work personally with them in their own hands. Thus, much like Johanna Drucker herself, many can create their own connections to art and content.
For example, I made my own piece inspired by Drucker’s work, specifically her “Proof before Laying” series. For this, I used the five words in this article’s title for the words and letters in this piece. I choose these words because we have focused our on where content and art mix and are separate and communicated the ideas of many others as well along in this process. One other in this, of course being Johanna Drucker who this post and art piece are inspired by. Plus, I am both a communication minor and have a couple art majors so I thought the words would also fit my personally. This takes the content of the words and then a creative artistic form on where they would be mixed onto the page. I saw a couple pieces from this series that used multiple colors as well, so I wanted to incorporate that into my piece. I had done my piece by hand, but I tried to make it look as much like type as possible to imitate her pieces letter-pressed quality. I’m admittedly pretty proud of how it turned out. I think it imitates Drucker’s work well.
NewLights Press is committed to integrating new techniques with the older. As their website states, they are committed to “the intersection of artists’ books and experimental text/image//making.” NewLights Press uses a letter press along with digital printing seeing the latter as an extension of the former. Additionally, NewLights Press uses sewn binding in many of their books while also publishing works, such as This/Days No. 2, that can only be appreciated on digital devices. This/Days No. 2 along with their edition of The Collected Books of Jack Spicer exemplify the two poles of their technology. The Collected Books of Jack Spicer is a letter pressed book printed on off-white near yellow paper with a yellowed cover demonstrating a retro aesthetic. A book that shows the intersection of the two poles is Book 1: The Movement-Image which uses sewn binding and pictures reminiscent of late nineteenth to early twentieth century photography along with hard angled lines and arrows that remind the observer of our ever digitalizing culture. NewLights Press comments on technological change’s influence on books and the books’ influence on us in The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press: “The book is a dangerously unstable object. . . . From the book we gather the scraps of ourselves—the shabby, mortal, sagging, staggering things that we are. . . . We will continue to fail. The book will continue to fail. But there is always the next thing, the next page, the next day.” NewLights press is aware of the fickle illusion of comforting stability.
The visual piece pictured above is an attempt to capture at least some respect of NewLights Press. As I pointed out in my post, Aaron Cohick says, “I think that we are living through another transitional period, culturally, politically, and economically, and that meanings that we have taken for granted are once again being contested, and that there is an enormous amount at stake” (319). Because our period seems to be attributed to general anxiety over several changing aspects of society, I wanted to reflect NewLights Press’ embrace of the new. Most of the visuals are inspired by Book 1: The Movement-Image where the lines and the old photograph come from. Additionally, I wanted to use a font very similar to that used in several of their books like that found in Splitting/Debt, but it seems to be a font unique to NewLIghts Press. The vertical text is inspired from Splitting/Debt, however. Overall, my goal was to present an anxiety and integration of the old and new – an attitude that is present in NewLights Press.
“Aaron Cohick: NewLights Press,” 2012. A Poetics of the Press, edited by Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 310-21.
Electio Editions prizes simplicity above all. The simplicity of their books draws the reader towards the text, and interspersed artwork, without distracting from that text by competing design. In a sense, the books are antiques, a window into a past that is now gone, and yet, as Alan Loney writes, “what’s past is present, and the present is ever reaching forward” (Loney, “fresh type from Parnassus”). In simplicity, time blurs together, and, indeed, Electio’s books shine with transcendent simplicity. This sense of simplicity arises, in part, from the roughness and thickness of the made-to-be-worn pages. Moreover, the books are sometimes purposely imperfect, and have fraying or sticking out threads. Electio is less concerned with perfection than with words and with humanity, a cycle of life that has new vitality in the hands of readers. Accordingly, the pages themselves have a recycled quality and are often not plain white, but white with a tone often derived from earthy colors that echo the solid-colored covers. Electio’s books favor simple, often primary colors and the pictures also retain this visual simplicity. Yet, the books are sturdy and well-made – the paper is thick, the ink is strong, and the letters ingrained, even indented, into the page in a style reminiscent of that which was once thought defective in the letterpress world but is now thought characteristic.
This intentional simplicity inspires a frank dialogue between author and reader which is not hindered by any formality or barrier. As artist’s books, Electio Edition’s books are artworks in themselves and are thus priced highly, but they also speak directly to the reader – and to the notion of book, as “every book is an equal participant in the concept of Book” (Loney 80). Because they are handmade, the reader is entrusted with a piece of the author and their mind. Like all books, Electio’s books are personal and cannot be separated from the personality of either author or reader, and, indeed, “something in that art is being expressed about the person who made it” (Loney 84). The design of Electio books in particular, though, underscores this intrinsic humanity. The dialogue is also ephemeral, as Alan Loney prints only a small number of copies of each book, and the books themselves are often quite short. They are a window, but only a small window, into the mind, and that mind is frequently racing from one thought to the next, creating a series of small books like those that Electio prints.
Alan Loney’s blog also contributes to the dialogic nature of the press. He is quite willing to converse with those interested in his work (and at times even seems sad that there are not more readers of his now-defunct blog), which he frequently promotes online. On his blog, readers are given an additional view into Electio’s works, a look which reinforces that they are intentionally simple and sleek. Like in his books, Loney regularly utilizes sentences with no capitalization on his blog. These sentences do not take up visual space – they both look and are read as small and humble no matter the size of the font. Once more, they are simple, even timid. But, the text of the books is placed on a contrasting, streamlined background that only further accentuates the words. Loney, moreover, is willing to experiment within his books, sometimes intermixing varying fonts, colors, and direction of writing while still carefully maintaining the sleek aesthetic of the press. He toys with format and artwork, as it both contributes to and is contributed to by the text. Thus, the books are often puzzles, a mental challenge that engrosses readers first by curiosity and then by quality and uniqueness. Yet, for Alan Loney, contrasts, such as that between “‘harmonized’ and ‘dissonant’…poin[t] to the simplicity that writing and printing are” (Loney 70), and, within this simplicity, “the form of the poem and the form of the book overlap, intersect, interfere, overlay each other in the pleasure of the work” (Loney 74). The simple pleasures of work and reading, then, are echoed in the intertwining of poetic and material form and aesthetic, which in turn reflect the textual content within the books. Electio Edition’s books blend complexity and simplicity into a unity that radiates with the beauty of simplicity.
Based off of the poetic examples of Electio Editions, I composed two poems, which I placed alongside accompanying drawings. I placed these poems and drawings on a green page. Although Electio Editions uses mostly white or white-ish paper for the pages and earth colors for the cover, I wanted to amplify the resonance between text and color in my own work, inspired by Electio’s works, since I do not have a traditional “cover” and distinction between cover and page. I closely followed the inspiration of the Electio original for each poem for their structure and theme, and the content was also inspired, loosely, by the Electio poems.
My first poem is based off of one of the poems within Heart Sutra, published in 2009 and captured on Loney’s blog in 2015. I used the poem’s structure of indentation, inversion, and simplicity in my own poem, and chose to center my poem on quiet (rather than emptiness) due to the sentence structure of many of the lines in Electio’s books, which start with a lower-case letter. As these sentences read more timidly than sentences with more conventional punctuation, they themselves seem to embody my theme of quiet. Hence, I foregrounded quiet in the poem as the building block for each of the different emotions, which contrast strikingly with the repeated, lower-case “quiet.” This contrast is like that between ink and paper and between art and text, and both of these contrasts feature within all books, including Electio’s, drawing out structural contrasts that background any textual contrasts.
My second poem is based off of another Electio poem, which is found in Jenson’s Greek. The poem is striking, as it is almost entirely composed of verbs, many of which are repeated throughout. I ventured farther from the Electio poem in my own work than in the first poem, but also used the inversion and repetition of verbs in my poem. I used line breaks for emphasis, like in the original poem, and the repetition between inverted poems creates a sense of unity and continuity despite these breaks.
My drawings also find inspiration in Electio’s works. Like so much of Electio’s aesthetic, they are intentionally simple (and Loney’s blog even utilizes the BlogSpot theme that is, fittingly, entitled “simple”). The top drawing is based off of the following picture, which accompanies the poem in Heart Sutra which inspired my own poem:
I used the image of the heart in my drawing since I had centered my poem around emotions, vis-à-vis quietness. I also used the same yellow and blue colors that were featured in Heart Sutra, but in different ways. Like in the original text, my heart is yellow, but I drew only half a heart, bordered by an arrow, to show the pain and hurt that often accompany emotions (and which are found within my own poem). I also drew a series of blue triangles, rather than waves, which I placed as the second half of the heart in my drawing. As triangles are the most stable geometric figure, they seemed a fitting image for a poem that, inspired by Electio, is grounded in simplicity and intentionality.
My second drawing, like my second poem, is inspired by Jenson’s Greek. Whereas Jenson’s Greek uses a “phi,” though, I used a “psi,” which I recreated in red, rather than orange ink, to give it an increased pop against the green background of my own work. The original drawing in Jenson’s Greek looks like this:
In my own drawing, I wanted to capture the same simplicity of the Greek letter which was in Jenson’s Greek, but I also added the arrows to the end and a thicker base to my “psi” to make it look like a trident, the weapon traditionally associated with the Greek god Poseidon. I added this element of Greek mythology to link the image more strongly with the permeation of Greek, which is found throughout Electio Edition’s Jenson’s Greek. My poem, ostensibly, does not seem to be about Greek at all, but might nevertheless be a fitting depiction of the ancient Greek society which is so transcendent and immortalized throughout history due to its significance in shaping western civilizations.
Electio Edition’s books are an excellent insight into the world of publishing, where design and text exist simultaneously and influence each other. Their books shine with intentionality and an intentional simplicity that places additional emphasis on the text and artwork alike. Their aesthetic creates a dialogue that links author with publisher and then with reader to create a truly interactive exchange that characterizes the conversation of reading and spotlights the blending of artistic and literary worlds.